Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
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Sacha Baron Cohen brings his Kazakh journalist character Borat Sagdiyev to the big screen for the first time. Leaving his native Kazakhstan, Borat travels to America to make a documentary. As he zigzags across the nation, Borat meets real people in real situations with hysterical consequences. His backwards behavior generates strong reactions around him exposing prejudices and hypocrisies in American culture.
It takes a certain kind of comic genius to create a character who is, to quote the classic Sondheim lyric, appealing and appalling. But be forewarned: Borat is not "something for everyone." It arrives as advertised as one of the most outrageous, most offensive, and funniest films in years. Kazakhstan journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen reprising the popular character from his Da Ali G Show), leaves his humble village to come to "U.S. and A" to film a documentary. After catching an episode of Baywatch in his New York hotel room, he impulsively scuttles his plans and, accompanied by his fat, hirsute producer (Hardy to his Laurel), proceeds to California to pursue the object of his obsession, Pamela Anderson. Borat is not about how he finds America; it's about how America finds him in a series of increasingly cringe-worthy scenes. Borat, with his '70s mustache, well-worn grey suit, and outrageously backwards attitudes (especially where Jews are concerned) interacts with a cross-section of the populace, catching them, a la Alan Funt on Candid Camera, in the act of being themselves. Early on, an unwitting humor coach advises Borat about various types of jokes. Borat asks if his brother's retardation is a ripe subject for comedy. The coach patiently replies, "That would not be funny in America." NOT! Borat is subversively, bracingly funny. When it comes to exploring uncharted territory of what is and is not appropriate or politically correct, Borat knows no boundaries, as when he brings a fancy dinner with the southern gentry to a halt after returning from the bathroom with a bag of his feces ("The cultural differences are vast," his hostess graciously/patronizingly offers), or turns cheers to boos at a rodeo when he calls for bloodlust against the Iraqis and mangles "The Star Spangled Banner."
Success, John F. Kennedy once said, has a thousand fathers. A paternity test on Borat might reveal traces of Bill Dana's Jose Jimenez, Andy Kaufman, Michael Moore, The Jamie Kennedy Xperiment, and Jackass. Some scenes seem to have been staged (a game Anderson, whom Borat confronts at a book signing, was reportedly in on the setup), but others, as the growing litany of lawsuits attests, were not. All too real is Borat's encounter with loutish Southern frat boys who reveal their sexism and racism, and the disturbing moment when he asks a gun store owner what gun he would recommend to "kill a Jew" (a Glock automatic is the matter-of-fact reply). Comedy is not pretty, and in Borat it can get downright ugly, as when Borat and his producer get jiggly with it during a nude fight that spills out from their hotel room into the hallway, elevator, lobby and finally, a mortgage brokers association banquet. High-five! --Donald LiebensonOn the DVD
"Global Visitings" captures Borat-mania in all its hype and glory, as Sacha Baron Cohen, never breaking character, promotes his film around the world. On the itinerary is Late Night with Conan O'Brien and the Toronto Film Festival, a now-legendary screening aborted after a projector malfunction. A mixed bag of deleted scenes finds Borat trying to bait more unsuspecting citizens, including an animal-control worker who refuses Borat a dog after he asks, "How do you recommend I cook this?" and a doctor who is nonplussed by Borat's obscene medical history. A supermarket visit offers the most maddening fromage-inspired looniness since Monty Python's "Cheese Shop" sketch. Also good for a few chuckles are a faux soundtrack commercial and a Baywatch parody ("Sexydangerwatch"). --Donald Liebenson
All things Sacha Baron Cohen
Stills from Borat (click for larger image)
- Kazakhstan "Bay Watch" Spoof
- 5 Deleted Scenes
- The "Best of" other Deleted Scenes Compilation
- Rodeo News Report
- World Promotions Tour Featurette
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If you don't like "Borat," you are an old fuddy-duddy or spinster schoolmarm.
I laugh at dead baby jokes. I was a nurse's aid and then a Peace Corps volunteer, and I learned to laugh at death, bodily fluids, pus-filled sores, and intestinal parasites.
I cannot tell you how much I hated "Borat." I would have walked out, but I had to keep watching because of my field of study.
Based on reviews, I expected a penetrating, edgy critique of Political Correctness that would make me laugh out loud. I did not laugh once. (Full disclosure: others in the theater did.) I'd like to offer you samples of what passes for humor in "Borat," but if I did so, this site would not run my review. That's because just about every joke - - not just some of them but just about every one - - is made at the intrusively graphic expense of women or homosexuals, and/or it involves bodily excretions.
An example. Baron Cohen is a guest at the home of a genuinely charming woman. After defecating, he hands her his fecal matter. That's a big joke. If you are laughing now, this movie is for you.
In another scene, Baron Cohen, without any clothing on at all, wrestles with another undressed man who is grotesquely obese. During this wrestling match, they assume poses for activities I can't name; if I did, this site would not run this review. If jokes at the expense of fat homosexual men are your cup of tea, this movie is for you.
I've never seen such a hateful movie in a mainstream theater. Again, I know full well that I sound like a schoolmarm when I say that. Sacha Baron Cohen, I would have to guess, based on this movie, hates the human race, including you, the ticket buyer. He is willing to exploit everyone he encounters, to humiliate them on camera, to get you, the ticket buyer, someone he also hates, to laugh at others' suffering. Once you do that, he can laugh at you. If watching decent people doing their best to deal with an obnoxious creep is your cup of tea, then this movie is for you.
I feel like repeating over and over: I laughed at Todd Solondz's "Happiness." I laugh at politically incorrect humor. And I hated this movie.
There's more going on here, and I know I'm risking a lot by pointing this out.
Borat speaks Polish. Only speakers of Polish will get that. He says "Dzien Dobry," "jak sie masz," "dziekuje" and other Polish phrases. The film's opening and closing scenes were shot in a real Eastern European village. Real Eastern European folk music is played on the soundtrack.
With "Ali G," Baron Cohen exploited vicious stereotypes of Blacks. With "Borat" Baron Cohen is not targeting Kazaks. He's exploiting a centuries-old, contemptuous and hateful stereotype of Eastern European peasants that can be found in various Western cultures - witness the American "Polak joke" - - and is common in one thread of Jewish culture. In this stereotype, Poles, and, by extension, Eastern European Christian peasants, are, like Borat, ignorant, bestial, and disgusting. A good précis of the stereotype can be found in a famous passage in Isaac Bashevis Singer's "The Slave." It can be found in the "Golem" article on my website.
In fact, "Borat" has a lot in common with Marian Marzynski's controversial film "Shtetl." In both, cameras invade an impoverished Eastern European peasant village. Villagers who are not sophisticated or worldly are conned into appearing on camera to perform for us as if they were trained monkeys. We laugh at them, or feel disgust at them, because they are dirty, because they are poor, and because they keep pigs. In any case, gazing at these lesser peasants, we know that we are superior. Perhaps Baron Cohen will try this technique next in a Darfur refugee camp or a homeless shelter. Poor, unsophisticated people can be so amusing.
Baron Cohen speaks of women as if they were less than dirt. Don't misunderstand him. He's not mocking misogyny. He's milking misogyny. The things Baron Cohen says about women in this movie are grotesque; they are brutal. He makes fun of mentally retarded people. He makes fun of white, Christian Southerners, a group everyone feels safe mocking.
Reviews, and no doubt many viewers, are telling you that "Borat" is a fearless laugh riot that punctures political correctness and makes you laugh till you cry. It's that very description that made me want to see it. I thought I'd be getting something like the Colbert Report.
I've gotta think I'm not the only one, though, who found looking at Baron Cohen's hatred for an hour and a half to be an icky, profoundly unfunny experience.
Our bookclub got this and thought it would be funny. Without doubts, the most vile and disgusting piece of garbage we subjected ourselves too. It is disgusting enough in and of itself, and has made Cohen a very rich man, at the expense of endless and cruel exploitation of less educated and poor people as perceived from Cohen's own mind and prejudices he learned in his home. The bigotry and racism are so insensitive and cruel that we didn't finish it and actually returned it and obtained a refund.
The images make us sick to our stomachs to this day. This from a bunch of senoir and senior, senoir citizens.
There is enough hate in this world, without Cohen adding so much more by his owm personal hatreds in this horrid movie.
In addition, I was disturbed to find that Cohen's caricature of Borat is no doubt a ripoff of comedian Mahir Cagri. (look him up in Wikipedia). Cagri should sue.
2. It is significant that Politically Correct Hollywood has now awarded one of its Oscar Nominations for this Politically Incorrect movie. Since the end of the Cold War - which the capitalist USA won and the communist Soviet union lost - Hollywood has lost its moral anchors and, consequently, now its Academy has become inconsistnt with its evaluations.
3. Moreover, its also significant that the dumb-founded American media have not commented on this phenomenon (neither on the left, nor on the right).
4. Finally, very few Americans seem to care about the fact that the Kazakhi in Kazakhstan have been deeply offended by this movie, which was not even filmed in Kazakhstan, but in Rumenia, showing once more that many Americans do not know where Central Asia is situated (NOT in Eastern Europe). Their high school education is severely deficient in global geography. And this USA is supposed to lead the world? No wonder that a lot of foreigners are becoming raving mad with this Hollywoodesque ignorance and arrogance.
5. It's time that some other American film producers stand up and start to make some movies that show the true grit of all those nations that have long suffered under communist Soviet rule and that now try to develop themselves with scarcely any assistance from the USA. There is still no Marshall Plan for Central Asia.